Mandate mongering

November 07, 1996|By Ben Wattenberg

WASHINGTON -- The people have spoken. But what have they said? If you think the spin season is over, think again. The mandate-mongering moment is upon us. Here is the mandate I monger:

Yes, it was a ''status-quo'' election. Bill Clinton was (and is) president. Republicans held (and hold) the Congress. The Republicans held (and hold) the governorships. State legislative chambers remain competitive.

President Clinton ran a professional and astute campaign. By co-opting the values issues early and often, he ate Bob Dole's lunch. Mr. Clinton remains a cornerstone of the status quo. But two important facts color the situation.

One: Mr. Clinton won with just 50 percent of the vote. Two: He took a more conservative position than any Democratic standard-bearer in recent history. (Who could have imagined that it would be a Democratic president who ended up signing into law a termination of the 60-year-old federal entitlement to welfare?) If Mr. Clinton harbored any thoughts of a revival of big-time activist government, that idea goes by the board, given the make-up of the new Congress.

So this was a status-quo election that confirmed a very solid Republican position. Both sides have learned lessons. Democrats found that they can't appear too liberal (1993-1994). Republicans found out they can't appear too conservative (1995-1996). But the Democrats lost Congress for their sins, the Republicans held on.

What does all this signify? On a variety of issues, bumpy progress toward the center-right and a slow unwinding of liberal excesses. The victory of California Proposition 209, ending affirmative action that yields preferences by race and gender, represents a sea change in American politics. The school-voucher movement has been gaining ground in some states and localities.

The Republicans cannot claim that ''Republican Revolution'' or ''Conservative Conquest'' has occurred. But they can say that they captured important ground in 1994 and held their new territory.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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